The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) committee claimed that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef should be listed as “in danger” due to climate change causing reefs to be bleached.
The UNESCO report urges Australia to take “accelerated action at all possible levels” to address the threat from climate change. Australia is one of the only wealthy nations that has not pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, and it is facing pressure to do so.
What is happening to the Great Barrier Reef?
If you don’t know already, climate change is causing great harm to the beautiful Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
In recent years, the Australian Great Barrier Reef has been under great pressure from rising temperatures. Heatwaves in 2016, 2017, and 2020 were so high that scientists believed the coral reefs would not go back to their original form after being bleached.
What is coral bleaching and when does it occur?
Image Sourced from www.noaa.gov
Due to global warming and climate change, the water temperature has been on the rise. When the water temperature is high, corals start losing their tissues, causing them to become more vulnerable and weaker in the sea. The corals would expel algae out, thus, causing the coral to turn white. Each time the heat waves hit Australia, causing the water temperature to rise, a portion of coral reefs become bleached and some coral reefs even die.
Why are coral reefs important to us? Specifically Great Barrier Reef
Coral reefs are important as they protect coastlines from storms and erosion, as well as marine life. It provides oxygen for aquatic animals and a home for many organisms as well. Not only are coral reefs important for ecosystems but they are also a source of jobs and income such as tourism for many countries.
Great Barrier Reef is one of the world heritage sites. It is made up of thousands of individual coral reefs and is the home to even more marine life.
Australia’s argument about labelling the Great Barrier Reef
The argument is that Australia is one of the only wealthy nations that have not pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and the effects of greenhouse gases are reaching the reefs, according to Greenpeace Australia Pacific chief executive David Ritter. It made sense for UNESCO to want to label the Great Barrier Reef as ‘in danger’.
This is not the first time the Great Barrier Reef have been considered ‘ in danger’. In 2012, the UNESCO committee warned Australia that it could consider the reefs to be ‘in danger’ if they do not take action against protecting the reefs. In 2015, the Australian government produced the Reef 2050 plan to reduce agricultural runoff, strengthen land-clearing laws and stop greenfield coal port developments. However, in 2019, the reefs deteriorated and their conditions went from “poor” to “very poor”. Now the argument of having these reefs under world heritage site ‘in danger’ has come up once again.
Australian politicians, however, claim that they have been singled out by UNESCO as there are many other properties that are at risk from climate change.
The Australian Government is aware of the importance of their reefs as it has provided them economically before COVID-19 as a tourism spot. They have also argued that these claims “send a poor signal to those nations who are not making the investments in reef protection that we are making” as they have spent more and $2 billion on reef protection.
What can we do?
Image Sourced from www.noaa.gov
We can always start with something small. Such as reducing your carbon footprint, making ethical choices when buying products, and ensuring that we do our part in keeping the ocean and water clean. Climate change is one of the biggest factors for coral bleaching therefore, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions could contribute to less coral bleaching.
It is important to note that if a coral is being bleached, it does not mean it’s dead. The possible chance of recovery is by making sure the water temperature can be returned to the appropriate temperature for the coral reefs. Although it will take time, doing our part as an ecosystem is equally important as placing reefs as ‘in danger’.